Priority boarding with Qantas, Virgin: what's your experience?

Priority boarding with Qantas, Virgin: what's your experience?

TALKING POINT | Being able to 'jump the queue' – or at least elegantly sidestep it – is why Gold and Platinum frequent flyers like priority boarding.

"But I'd like it more if it worked!", one Australian Business Traveller reader and Qantas Platinum card-holder observed to me in an email this week.

Qantas and Virgin Australia both offer this express lane for domestic flights, with top-tier frequent flyers joining business class travellers in bypassing the hoi polloi.

In theory, anyway. How well it all comes together at the boarding gate seems to be more hit and miss.

Having the priority boarding line properly managed by the airline's gate team seems to be the first qualifier: there's little sense in a 'premium' lane if any passenger can stroll into it.

There are also some practical considerations. Peak hour flights on the 'triangle' – the highly-travelled corridors between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – can often see a priority line as long as the non-priority line, and sometimes longer.

Which brings us to this week's talking point: what is your experience with priority boarding on domestic Qantas and Virgin Australia flights? How well is it working for you, when doesn't it work, and what could airlines do to make it work better?

David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.
 

58 comments

  • elemist

    elemist

    29 Sep, 2017 03:52 am

    Have found it to be hit and miss as well the few times i've used it. When it works its ok, when they don't police the line its a waste of time.

    The other issue i found was whilst the priority boarding lets you skip the gate queue, more often than not there's just as long a queue on the jet bridge. Or worse you all end up on the same bus, which makes the whole exercise pointless.
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  • JJJJJJJ

    JJJJJJJ

    29 Sep, 2017 10:39 pm

    I agree - if there's a queue at the jet bridge the whole exercise was pointless :(
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  • sdtravel

    sdtravel

    29 Sep, 2017 04:01 am

    QF domestic normally board both the priority and regular queue at the same time. One left one right so if your business, gold or platinum there will likely be non status economy people right next to you as you walk down.

    I like how AA do it via boarding groups but they still dont stop anyone from boarding ahead of their allocated group as the people scanning just assuming you are in the group being called.
    No member give thanks

  • peteshep

    peteshep

    29 Sep, 2017 09:45 pm

    I’ve seen AA send people to the normal line if they’re in the wrong one
    Member who gave thanks

    henry_168

  • GBRGB

    GBRGB

    29 Sep, 2017 05:04 am

    It's never really policed on QF that I have seen, by the time you get to the gate from the lounge the priority queue is full anyway with many not Gold or above, most people just see a queue and jump on it, they don't care, maybe they could seperate the lanes a bit more and signage but apart from actually telling people they are in the wrong lane they will continue to use it.
    No member give thanks

  • Andrew McNicol

    ACM

    29 Sep, 2017 08:46 am

    QF international largely good and well enforced. QF domestic a joke, two queues going at once and zero enforcement in the premium queue.
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  • eRogerNess

    eRogerNess

    3 Oct, 2017 11:57 am

    Especially so at SYD. No major issues with QF priority at MEL / BNE / ADL.
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  • Uqsthom6

    Uqsthom6

    29 Sep, 2017 08:52 am

    Poorly policed on VA. Came back from Perth recently in J. The lounge was empty but suddenly when I hit the gate the priority line was 50 deep. Leaving wondering what’s the point of loyalty or paying for J when simple aspects of the product offering are simply not provided and there is no effort from the gate staff to enforce. If only this was isolated event.
    I’ve seen SQ do well at looking after their PPS and priority passengers prior to boarding. My frustration arises from the apathy from Ground crew. A few people being told to go back and wait would certainly start showing people that the line is at least policed.
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  • nix584

    nix584

    29 Sep, 2017 09:51 am

    On an A330 it's reasonable to expect that there could be 50 people (at least) with Platinum or Gold Status, plus the J cabin seats 20.
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  • jpk77

    jpk77

    11 Oct, 2017 04:07 pm

    VA usually better than QF on east coast, but had similar poor experiences in PER - last month the priority lane was full of economy reds, and no policing at all. I think the setup of the queues in the new terminal doesn't help - it's not obvious to many which queue is which, so they just join the shortest/closest.
    No member give thanks

  • spacecadet

    spacecadet

    29 Sep, 2017 09:02 am

    Good experiences for me generally on VA, except for the SYD-MEL leg when about half the plane stampedes through the priority lane... to many FFs on this route!
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  • Uqsthom6

    Uqsthom6

    29 Sep, 2017 10:56 am

    Agreed. Sadly I was standing around a stack of people with red status on their boarding pass.
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  • rob01

    rob01

    29 Sep, 2017 09:05 am

    I've found VA is usually ok but if you get to the gate after boarding has commenced and all the priority passengers that were there have boarded then they might start using both lanes just to get everyone on board. What does make me chuckle is the peak hour SYD/MEL/BNE flights where there are so many Golds and Plats that the priority line is longer than the regular but so many people just will not leave the priority line, even if it's quicker to do so!
    No member give thanks

  • Colin Steven

    colin5353

    29 Sep, 2017 09:21 am

    Neither do it well here in Oz. Best I have seen of late is CX in LHR and HGK, three clearly signed lanes, Business/First, Prem Economy and Economy. With people being checked along the queue and moved if in the wrong lane.
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    29 Sep, 2017 09:41 am

    I've seen Virgin Australia boot people from the priority queue to the back of the normal lane who weren't supposed to be there, but have never seen Qantas do that! I've also lost count of the number of times I've been flying Qantas and the 'regular' line has formed in the 'priority' queue, leaving the 'economy' line completely empty and actually the faster option.

    That said, priority boarding tends to work most of the time when I fly with either airline: but if you had to choose between the flight departing on time with everybody on board regardless of how they got there, or the flight being late to ensure that people have have their boarding pass scanned at the correct counter at the correct time (to end up on the same plane), obviously I'd choose the former.
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  • John

    akronflyer

    29 Sep, 2017 09:49 am

    Agree that CX manage the Boarding system well,They checked the Boarding passes whilst Pax were in the Queue
    What amazed me at HK were the number of passengers with actual Tier Status
    Recently on a flight ex Brisbane the QF lines were equal in both Lanes
    Observed a Plat Flyer join the ordinary lane and he commented to his associate 'They cant all have QF Status'
    No member give thanks

  • tonbo

    tonbo

    29 Sep, 2017 01:55 pm

    CX gives everyone with Marco Polo club membership priority boarding which is why the priority queue often appears longer than the economy queue.
    No member give thanks

  • nix584

    nix584

    29 Sep, 2017 09:53 am

    I've found VA do priority boarding very well. I like that in BNE, MEL, SYD, PER the purple lane is front and centre while general boarding is on the side. Makes it easier to go straight through. And at OOL the gate agents strictly enforce priority boarding too.
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  • eminere

    eminere

    29 Sep, 2017 09:59 am

    It is just so baffling why Qantas can't manage priority boarding properly.
    No member give thanks

  • Boof

    Boof

    29 Sep, 2017 10:04 am

    VA ground staff do push people out of the queue if not eligible and that is awkward for all, but does respect the process.

    The thing that troubles me with VA's priority boarding is that they have so many pax eligible for it now that it has been devalued in my view. On some 737 services more than half the passengers have access to the priority queue. Last week I had an incredibly rare experience and there was about 15 people out of an aircraft that was 70% full, but I've also seen the priority queue have 50+ people in it on a weekday AM service.

    Right now you get access if you are J class, Plat, Gold, Econ X, and partner status. 15% of the available seats on a 737 get it even if no status (J and EconX).
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  • PERflyer

    PERflyer

    29 Sep, 2017 10:46 am

    I flew PER-SIN-PER last week week and it worked both flights for me. My last 8 domestic flights it worked for me also surprisingly.
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  • Alan Su

    alansu

    29 Sep, 2017 11:41 am

    Sometimes the priority boarding queue is just as long as general boarding though... given the number of Golds & Platinums on both VA and QF. Kind of loses the appeal at that point.
    No member give thanks

  • John Geromoschos

    JTG

    29 Sep, 2017 01:21 pm

    Singapore Airlines manage the queue very well at Chiangi and generally speaking only those entitled to priority boarding receive it. But it still frustrates me. My ticket gets checked by the check in staff, then by someone just before immigration counter (shouldn't it be emigration), then at the immigration counter, then in the line for security, then by the security staff, then by the gate staff. Surely all these people don't need to check my ticket. This is just adding time and expense
    No member give thanks

  • Teejay Cal

    Theresnormissin

    29 Sep, 2017 01:49 pm

    Qantas domestic staff don't seem to police it, and to a certain extent I can understand this as the gate staff are likely to be under massive time pressure to get the plan turned around as quickly as possible. In Sydney T3 I feel the priority lane is worse on gates 1 - 7 where space to form a proper line is a bit more of a premium and anything seems to go. The Priority line system on gates 8 - 14 seem to function better as the line can naturally grow in to the satellite. Internationally on Qantas it seems to work a lot better, but I believe that this may also be partially due to the fact that they have longer to board the plane.

    I must say that while there is a lot wrong with BA but the way they manage Priority boarding is at least well done. Starting by boarding their top tier and Business customers and then working their way down the list calling forward OW Emeralds, Sapphires, and then Rubies, before calling everyone else. It works well, even when I was flying them as a 'lowly' QF silver/OW ruby late last year. It also seems to encourage people out of the lounge so they are at the gate early enough that they do not miss their priority window. This avoids what seems to happen here where everyone stampedes out of the lounge as soon as the boarding call is made, so they all arrive at the gate at the same time which can exacerbate the problem.
    No member give thanks

  • Adam T

    AT

    29 Sep, 2017 01:51 pm

    My observations on domestic both QF & VA is that the job of policing is largely left up to the poor cabin crew whose first job is to manage the boarding, the very few ground staff are doing their job which is preparing the departure. Once again it’s the marketing department who come up with these great concepts but rarely follow through on the logistics, your know like rostering staff to do that job.
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  • Chey

    Chey

    29 Sep, 2017 01:58 pm

    A few months ago I would have said that for Qantas it was a waste of time, but its actually been not bad last 6-7 trips over the last few months. Yesterday in Darwin a Economy pax was asked to go to the standard boarding queue from the priority. First time I have personally seen that in my memory (wanted to give the gentleman a high five). From Perth the queues can be about the same for an A332. So depending on if the gate has one or two air-bridges operating the perk can be of marginal benefit.
    No member give thanks

  • Steve987

    Steve987

    29 Sep, 2017 02:06 pm

    Not that it would help where people misunderstand or intentionally go in the wrong line, but on QF it should be limited to platinum and business class. Just too many gold for it to be effective.
    No member give thanks

  • Mark Pannell

    plad

    29 Sep, 2017 02:36 pm

    I don't understand the rush to get on. All those people squeezing past with their vast amounts on carry on. I usually try to get on last.
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  • CQ

    MEL Traveller

    29 Sep, 2017 02:42 pm

    I’m Platinum with both airlines, and Virgin is much better at this. Qantas often let anyone through the priority line.
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  • cbourl

    cbourl

    29 Sep, 2017 03:26 pm

    QF Priority Boarding is a bit like this website with its bad programming - ususally it doesn't work -Schlepping from the Business lounge to a packed gate - priority boarding only to reach an airbridge packed - when you finally get to row 1 or 2 you cant even place your overhead luggage/shoes b4 you put on your airplane socks courtesy LX/UA/LH/EY/CX/SQ/EY/etc because of traffic moving back

    Virgin Australia are of course world class and exoteric with their boarding. UA domestic/international do well with zoned boarding so you at least have a chance to sit comfortable in the F/C cabin before the masses pass by LX C Eu do well as they do international - LH C EU is like QF priority boarding - not zonedso it really is irrelevant -sit in the lounge and board 15 mins b4 takeoff - LH First really re the best -limo Cayenne or 500SKL drive alone to the aircraft - no sight of a C or Y pax! Tarmac ascent to F - or like me a few weeks ago when your aircraft has been swapped from an A380 F FRA-JFK to a crappy 747-400 (unglaublich fuer die Lufthansa!!!!!!!!!!) Limo driver take your from tarmac to Biz Class telling everyone to get out of the way on the airbridge! Sadly on this flight this was the end of First Class Lufthansa (ususally exoteric!!!!!) and got the old abysmal sad and schlepp/schwitz und schlumm LH international C class Total lack of any service on board - and total ignoring of any request on board but at least your bags are waiting at JFK for you unless one of three is incorrectly labelled by FrapORT STAFF AT lUFHTANSA fIRST CHECKINN!

    No member give thanks

  • Flying Gnome

    Flying Gnome

    29 Sep, 2017 03:27 pm

    Flew VA SYD-ADL last week I was the only one in the queue both times. What have FFs got against ADL.
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  • UpUpAndAway

    UpUpAndAway

    29 Sep, 2017 04:00 pm

    My answer to this is line up early or sit at the front of the plane
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  • Jason Masters

    JPMasters

    29 Sep, 2017 04:45 pm

    I find VA SYD, MEL and BNE very good, CBR (mainly small planes) not set up properly, and ADL always a struggle for VA staff to manage.

    QF I only fly occassionaly and always seems to be a mess.
    No member give thanks

  • cbourl

    cbourl

    29 Sep, 2017 04:57 pm

    hEY UPUPANDAWAY (WITH TAA!) that's the whole point -whe nu fly QF at front it doesn't make any difference! Bring on Zoned Boarding like UA!!!!!! Group 1 Globals Services 1k then Group 2 Front End Flyers
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  • BatteryBen

    BatteryBen

    29 Sep, 2017 06:41 pm

    As mentioned by sdtravel, AA have it right. 9 boarding groups. 1 thru 4 are First, OW Emerald, etc then 5 thru 9 are economy with intent to fill rear and windows, then middle, then aisle seats. Doesn't always work perfectly of course but handles pretty well the chaos of queues in undersized US terminals (not dissimilar to SYD T3) and pushy, heavy-bag-laded pax. And they police it well.
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  • cbourl

    cbourl

    29 Sep, 2017 07:28 pm

    Yes Just like United! Police the boarding! I hate queue jumpers -this is common in EU and AU
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  • J S

    JRS

    29 Sep, 2017 08:47 pm

    QF is a joke domestically, but seems to be better on international departures.
    No member give thanks

  • peteshep

    peteshep

    29 Sep, 2017 09:53 pm

    This should be really simple. A rope goes across the front of the economy line. They board the priority line first through both people scanning until it is cleared, sending anyone not entitled to be there to the other line. Once it is cleared, open the regular line only allowing those entitled to use the priority. AA generally do this perfectly. VA do this most of the time well, although I haven’t flown them in a while. QF never. It doesn’t matter then how many are “entitled”, those in the priority line board first.
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  • peteshep

    peteshep

    29 Sep, 2017 09:54 pm

    Oh and on QF the ground staff don’t board, it’s the FAs scanning passes. The ground staff are the ones sitting chatting at the desk. Perhaps one of them could be policing the queues.
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  • JJJJJJJ

    JJJJJJJ

    29 Sep, 2017 10:41 pm

    I stay in the J lounge and board last.
    Member who gave thanks

    Twonson

  • Twonson

    Twonson

    2 Oct, 2017 05:49 pm

    I’m the same always last on..
    No member give thanks

  • eq_syd

    eq_syd

    30 Sep, 2017 02:41 am

    No comparison. VA is a far better experience.
    QF boards both lanes simultaneously and continuously. Affords no benifit for priority pax.
    VA follows the (global) common practice of boarding in priority sequence first then others. Also priority lane policed so those joining late can at least skip what remains of the queue.

    No member give thanks

  • bsb

    bsb

    30 Sep, 2017 08:09 am

    QF stuffed it up when they allowed Gold to join the priority queue. But it doesn’t really matter, they never manage it well in any case.

     
    I like the AA way send you back where you belong if you queue jump. But then again, Americans seem much more likely to self police as well.
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  • jdog88

    jdog88

    30 Sep, 2017 01:58 pm

    What's the point? Plane doesnt arrive any quicker anyway.
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  • Taylor

    Taylor

    30 Sep, 2017 08:11 pm

    SQ is no better. Last month at Changi the gate people called - First, Business Class, PPS and Gold Star alliance at the same time, needless to say the people jam on the aerobridge slowed everybody down and the plane was totally full. This was not the first time this has happened with SQ at Changi, Melb, Fra, LHR.
    No member give thanks

  • Clancy

    Clancy

    1 Oct, 2017 09:01 am

    Care-factor? Zero...!!! A good friend who worked in the industry suggested waiting until you have been paged at least 3 times before heading to board, not my style though. Anyway, what's the rush, enjoy another 'flat white' or shiraz depending on the time of day and 'chill'.
    No member give thanks

  • samson

    samson

    1 Oct, 2017 10:27 am

    I prefer to board last except when I'm in Y on the peak-hour domestic routes, where access to the overhead bins can get tough when you're last.
    No member give thanks

  • Flyman

    Flyman

    1 Oct, 2017 10:40 am

    Va are better at this because they board prioritiy before they board others. I think two ways they could improve it: better signage away from the gate and at a height above people heads. By the time que forms, Mr and Mrs non regular flyers can't see the signs at the gate, and they join what ever que looks short.

    Second the zone boarding is very important, so that everyone is not stopped by the passager in row 7, 10 or what ever. This will help the que in the airobrigh.

    Policing is also key. QF are now doing this at sucurity and it make a huge difference.
    No member give thanks

  • Dante Giacomin

    danteg

    2 Oct, 2017 01:36 pm

    I have flown PER-SYD-PER regularly over the past few years and found the priority lane works fine most of the time. With the recent downsizing of some flights from the A330 to the B737 on some flights I've had to change my strategy. With the B737 and only one aerobridge in use I have to get to the gate before boarding starts otherwise I get stuck in the long queue in the aerobridge as economy passengers struggle to get themselves seated and their cabin bags in the overhead thus creating a bottleneck on the aircraft. The bigger issue is economy passengers breaching the limits for cabin baggage by taking too many bags & bags too large on board. Only once have I seen ground crew enforce those rules.
    No member give thanks

  • Melbzone

    henry_168

    2 Oct, 2017 04:10 pm

    The check-in staff must enforce priority boarding for Gold and above QFFs, and police this. Sending illegible priority boarding people back to Economy boarding is a good enforcement way!
    No member give thanks

  • Dredgy

    Dredgy

    2 Oct, 2017 11:48 pm

    Never seen the point of it. Much rather maximise time in lounge/airport and not head to the plane until boarding is well under way. It's always staggered me that people consider priority boarding a "perk", it's more like a punishment.

    Only time I like to board first is when I'm in economy and in a window seat, so that people don't have to get up for me.
    Member who gave thanks

    Clancy

  • Tony Cross

    tonycross

    3 Oct, 2017 08:45 pm

    I flew PER - BNE a couple of weeks ago on the Sunday night QF red-eye and one of the staff was policing the priority lane, actually directing non-business/plat/gold to the regular queue before they even tried to join the wrong one.
    No member give thanks

  • Joseph Tan

    JT31

    4 Oct, 2017 03:53 pm

    QF domestic priority queue is a joke! Seems to send the signal that business class, P and P1 should board early to beat the queue? ;-)
    QF should learn from Cathay and Finnair on the way the segment priority passenger before boarding! Very well done in my view.
    No member give thanks

  • Jazzop

    Jazzop

    6 Oct, 2017 05:37 pm

    VAs process and management of it is superior to QFs. The problem with VA is that the priority queue may have more in it than the normal queue!

    But, at least our carriers are not replicating the the multi tier process of the US carriers.
    No member give thanks

  • Rod Yates

    Rod Yates

    11 Oct, 2017 04:00 pm

    It's a waste of time generally, QF often only have one attendant manning the gate so it's Rafferty's Rules.
    No member give thanks

  • Mark Billam

    billamm

    11 Oct, 2017 04:06 pm

    A colleague of mine, who had lost his priority status, spent almost a whole year joining the priority queue and was never challenged. He probably averaged one return flight a week, and the bulk were VA, so not really sure it's a genuine 'perk'.

    Slightly off topic, but priority luggage seems to be the same....it's a marketing ploy not held up in any form of reality....though I accept that probably out of the airlines control and reliant on the baggage handlers.

    When it comes to 'policing', probably the only 'feature' that is genuinely and consistently policed is the lounge access, for everything else they play lip service to, if at all. And based on experience that applies to all carriers, not just QF and VA.
    No member give thanks

  • pallmall

    pallmall

    12 Oct, 2017 10:01 am

    Always seems to work for International departures but almost never on domestic. In fact my last flight to Melbourne (from Sydney) I took the standard line as it was quicker with less people then the Business/Priority line. A bit like priority bag tags, but that is a story for another time I suppose!!!!
    No member give thanks

  • Rhorgan

    Rhorgan

    12 Oct, 2017 11:18 am

    Priority boarding has worked for me in economy. It enables the passenger to reach their assigned seat quickly, so they can prevent other passengers from stealing their overhead locker space. Twice I have pulled out other passengers excess hand carry to make room for my handcarry. Some cabin staff have tried to distance themselves from this problem.
    No member give thanks

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27 May, 2019 11:33 am

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